Darth Vader did not say …
Oh, I just lost half of the readers. Understood. Not everyone cares. But you should, because this is a Major Cultural Event that spans the generations. Even if Episode 7 consists of George Lucas performing the entire story with hand puppets, the movie will do eleventy billion dollars on the first weekend. In six months they’ll release it on Blu-ray with deleted scenes, and it will sell like hot cakes, albeit a hard, silvery form of hot cake that the syrup just slides right off. Episode 7 could be a horror show from start to finish, complete with Luke and Leia doing a musical number with 1,000 CGI Elvis-impersonator droids, and the fans will still perk up when the media start talking about Episode 8.
Nothing can sour a “Star Wars” fan on “Star Wars.” Not even “Star Wars.”
I am a casual fan. I’ve seen the original first movie only 23 times. “The Empire Strikes Back” was tremendous fun, even if some scenes don’t hold up after the 40th viewing. I mean, Han is going out to look for Luke, and he’s warned that it’s getting dark and temperatures are falling to dangerous lows. “Then I’ll see you in hell,” he shouts, and I guess it was thrilling at the time, but c’mon, the guy’s just giving the weather report. Why would you see me in hell? Geez. Wear some layers, is all I’m saying.
And don’t get me started on the way the Empire decides to attack the Rebel base. “We’ve identified their position, sir. Shall we bombard them into rubble from the safety of space?” “No, drop some large, slow, top-heavy machines a few miles away and have them walk slowly across the ice. It’s ineffective, but it looks cool.”
All the flaws you overlooked in the second were unavoidable in “Return of the Jedi.” Loved it when they blew up the Death Star? Let’s do that again! Shocked by the revelation of a family connection? Hey, Luke, that hot princess you were crushing on, well, she’s your sister. But don’t worry, we won’t reprise that tense, desperate lightsaber battle between Luke and Darth. We’ve got an old guy who Tasers Luke for about half an hour with lightning bolts that come out of his wrinkly fingers while Darth stands around looking anguished and conflicted. Or would, if he weren’t wearing a black lacquered bucket over his head. I’ll never forget the emotions I felt when the third movie ended: I am going to spend so much time defending this, in the hopes I will convince myself.
But I began by saying something about Darth Vader. It’s one of those things where a misquoted line works its way into popular lore. He did not say “Luke, I am your father.” What he said was, “Play it again, Sam.” Hold on — no, sorry. Well, something Luke something father, the exact words don’t matter. I was there, and I don’t recall the specifics. What I do recall was the nuclear bomb that went off in the brainpan of every fan in the theater.
It was opening day, at the long-gone glory of the Southtown Theater. As we waited to take our seats we saw the previous showing’s audience file out. Nothing but grins and awe-struck faces. The movie starts, and soon we’re all staring at the screen with wide, happy eyes, because this is everything we’d been waiting for. Then the dark finale. Han gets turned into the world’s largest iPhone case. Vader beats up Our Hero with casual aplomb, then whacks off Luke’s hand just to get the little whelp’s attention. We’re all wondering how this could possibly turn out for the better. And then he says it: Yeah, I’m the embodiment of evil and malice, but that old beardy dude I smoked a while back forgot to tell you I AM YOUR FATHER.
Now, everyone knows it. Now, no one can watch that movie without knowing it. Then, no one had any idea. There was no Internet, no spoilers, no leaks, no legions of dorks keen to spoil it for everyone to show how cool they were. No one saw that coming. It was the greatest movie plot twist anyone had ever experienced. And then we find out Darth’s sled was named Rosebud!
And it was a cliffhanger, so you didn’t even get resolution. It was literally a case of a movie ending with: “Hold that thought for three years.” This is why no one walked out and told the faces waiting to get in and said, “Wait till you find out Darth is Luke’s dad!” Cruelty aside, it was more fun simply to know something they didn’t. Yet.
Episode 4 was, as its name proclaimed, “A New Hope” — a ’70s movie that had heroism and derring-do in a fully realized world with a score that gave it operatic heft. Up to then our sci-fi movie plots consisted of “Charlton Heston is in trouble. He dies.” It’s hard to imagine how the new movie can seem as fresh. It’s hard to see how it can come up with a galvanic plot twist that upends everything. But if it seems real, it’ll be worth the wait. For those of us who were there 39 years ago when it all began, we know that the moment the logo crashes on the screen and the fanfare plays, the heart will swell and we will beg for this to be good.
I’m hopeful. Except for those rumors of a singing robot with swiveling hips. L-V!S or something. I don’t know. But you think: It could be awesome, because it’s a “Star Wars” movie. And then you think: It could be bad. Same reason.